Sunday, July 12, 2015
As you know very well, we have four Gospels in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And you may have noticed that three of them are really quite similar. Matthew, Mark and Luke often tell the same stories, almost word for word the same. There are a few minor differences between the way they tell the story, and each of them tells some stories about Jesus that the others don’t tell, but there is really a remarkable similarity between those three gospels. Now what we know about that is that Mark was written first, and so I like to say that when Matthew and Luke wrote their stories, they had Mark’s Gospel on their writing table at one elbow. And Matthew and Luke had another document at their other elbow – a document that we call Q which was a compilation of the sayings of Jesus. And both Matthew and Luke used those two documents – the Gospel of Mark and Q when they wrote their own stories. So no wonder they are very similar. We’ve talked about all that before. You may remember that.
But John is really quite different. He does tell some of the same stories, but he also tells a great deal about Jesus that the other gospel story tellers don’t tell.
And this passage is one of those places. John inserts four whole chapters into the story of Jesus’ last supper that the other gospel writers don’t include. In John’s version, he’s sitting around that table with his disciples after the meal there on the Thursday night before his death. He pours out his love for them in a poignant goodbye to them. He goes on for four chapters about how much he loves them. He tells them that he’ll be leaving them, which they don’t understand. But he keeps on talking to them in the hope that after he’s gone they’ll remember what he has said. He talks about his relationship with God. It’s a close, loving relationship that the two of them have together, Father and Son. It’s a circle of love, or a bubble of love that the two of them share together. He describes how he and his Father think alike and he does what his Father asks him to do, and he says that his Father asks him to say. And everything that his Father has belongs to him as well. Then Jesus invites his disciples into that bubble of love – with himself and God. He says, “We will come to you and make our home with you.” e inv
And he uses an example they would have understood immediately. There were vineyards everywhere in that country, and grapes growing everywhere, and people tending to grave vines and harvesting grapes and pruning grape vines after the harvest. So he talks about grapes and grape vines and the branches on grape vines. He says “I am the vine and you are the branches. When the branch is cut from the vine it dies. Becomes lifeless. Falls to the ground, dead. Thrown into a fire and burned. You can’t grow grapes on a dead branch.”
But, Jesus, says, if you are attached to the vine, you are alive. You know who you are – a branch on a grape vine. You can get the water and nutrients you need to grow from the vine itself. You can produce luscious, juicy grapes. And the grapes that you produce will be a source of pride for that vine. Jesus uses the words, “My father’s glory is shown in you.”
Several of you in this congregation are interested in your family tree – and have traced your family tree back many generations. I’m happy to know that because I’ve done the same thing. It’s a way of knowing who we are and where we came from. I am named for my great- great-grandmother, and her blood is running through my body. I am connected to her in ways I cannot explain. I have been to her little village in the Netherlands. I have purchased flour at the very windmill where she bought her flour every week. I have walked the little paths there where she and my other ancestors walked, and I have sat in their churches. I know that I am basically a Dutch peasant woman, a child of the earth and a child of God, because that’s who my ancestors were. When we’re a part of a family tree, we know who we are. When we are attached to Jesus, we know who we are.
And when we’re attached to Jesus, we get our nourishment from him. We draw our strength from him. We soak in his love for us. We walk around in that bubble of love with him. When we are bewildered, we look to him. When we are lonely or confused or in pain, we look to him. When we are looking for some direction in our lives, we follow him. When we feel tired or needy, we turn to him. When things are going wrong in our lives, we turn to him. When we are bone tired weary, we run to Jesus.
And then, of course, it follows that we look like him. And little grapes start to appear in our lives - little fruit that he would be proud of. Little grapes on his vine. We find that we are compassionate toward those who are suffering, and furious with those who are causing their suffering. We wear ourselves out doing what is just and good and kind, and we seek truth in the most unlikely places. We are gentle and self-sacrificing, and faithful. We do what we can to alleviate pain, and we feed the hungry. We actually feed the hungry. And all of that happens in our lives because we are firmly attached to Jesus, and that’s what he did. We are luscious, ripe, juicy grapes on the vine. What else would you expect from a grapevine?
And all of that honors God. We are part of that bubble of love with Jesus and his Father. They have come to us and made their home with us. We live in companionship with them every second of our lives, and who we are brings honor to them.
When I was about ten years old, it was the custom in the community where we lived that people would go visiting in each other’s homes on Sunday evenings. It was not the custom that my parents would hire baby sitters for my brothers and me, so we always went along even if there were no kids in that family, or even if we didn’t know the host and hostess. We took a book along, or a puzzle, or we planned to take a nap – something that wouldn’t interfere with the adult conversation. And there was a ritual that happened every time we pulled into the driveway of the house we were visiting. My dad would stop the car, and he’d look at each one of us kids one by one, in the rearview mirror and he’d say, “Remember your last name.” Which meant that we would speak politely to any adult who spoke to us, and eat whatever was given us to eat, and curl up in corner somewhere and make no trouble whatsoever. And at the end of the evening we would shake the hand of our hostess and say “thank you for a very nice time,” which our mother had taught us to say ahead of time and had practiced with us ahead of time. It meant that we knew who we were – we were Vander Hovens and proud of it. And we would honor the name Vander Hoven and we would not do anything that evening to bring shame on that name.
And then we’d get out of the car and go into the house.
So Beloved Congregation of Jesus Christ at North Kent. Remember your last name. We know who we are, and where we belong. We live in a bubble of love with Jesus and his Father. We draw our life from them. We are nurtured in our connection with them. They have made their home with us. We produce fruits that honor God.
And we always remember our last name. Christian. Follower of Jesus Christ.